by Pallavi MehraAug 02, 2023
Fine dining remains an experiential, sensorial venture, more than just an isolated, gastronomical one. Designing a restaurant experience as a masterfully written visual narrative can be perceivably achieved if the space, its lighting, the composition of the furniture and décor, the wafting smells of cooking, and even the cutlery design, come together in a well-arranged chorus, to elevate the adventure of the haute-cuisine. Can, and should architecture and interior design be more than just a backdrop while a restaurant's gastronomy remains the protagonist?
Norm Architects portrays a stunning example with their latest project, a gleaming restaurant sitting as a “solitary diamond” in the verdant, undulating fields of Ästad Vingård, one of Sweden’s largest vineyards known for their sparkling white wines. The partly underground Restaurang ÄNG is articulated as a graceful melange of crisp minimalism and sensational composition, citing Japanese and Scandinavian design influences, as a culinary experience that pulls visitors out of the ordinary by engaging and ensnaring all senses. Furnished by Japanese Karimoku, the Michelin-starred restaurant's entrance is a spectacular glasshouse which glistens in the middle of a lush field. An immediate interplay between architecture, food, wine, interiors and curated art is visible, promising a stimulating 19-course haute-cuisine experience that creatively presents local Scandinavian gastronomy and wine.
The new ÄNG takes its moniker from the surrounding meadows, traversing the surface as well as the deeper parts of the Swedish landscape, with the souterrain view of the wetlands augmenting the solitary yet serene setting of the restaurant.
Architecture that abets visual and culinary storytelling
The Copenhagen-based firm paints a fine picture, adding “The experience of ÄNG starts even before you step inside – walking through the lush meadow with crops and grasses on both sides of the winding pathway leading guests to the sparkling glasshouse that stands as a modern and refined interpretation of a greenhouse turned inside out. Having the iron structure on the inside, it stands like a prism in the middle of the field; Utterly sharp and smooth, mirroring the surroundings.”
The restrained elegance of the glasshouse is held together by a ribbed iron frame, fronted by a petite herb garden, while a protective hedge reveals a glimpse of a nearby lake, at the same time, anchoring one to the present. The stone-flooring outside continues inside as the heavy glass doors open, as a faint reminder of the relationship between ÄNG and the handsome nature surrounding it.
The hospitality architecture is light, lush and timeless, as one explores the open plan kitchen fitted with a grounding stone counter and bespoke artworks with an organic form language. Refined lounge furniture by Japanese Karimoku in solid wood with visible woodworking details and a soft upholstery anchors guests to the restaurant's architecture, while still being in touch with the landscape outside - the experience is as if one is sitting in the middle of the field with nothing but clear skies stretching calmly overhead. “It is evident how the space dwells on the interplay between nature and culture, capturing the spirit of the unique locus,” relays Norm Architects. Accompanying the uncluttered space are seven wooden and stone sculptures made bespoke by Norwegian artist, Anders Pfeffer Gjengedal (Løvfall), oozing sensual and expressive energy.
“With inspiration found in both the unspoiled Nordic nature surrounding the premises of ÄNG and Japanese sensibilities in design aesthetics and craftsmanship, the interior provides a holistic, sensory experience that refines the culinary offering and reflects the identity of the restaurant,” explains Frederik Werner, Norm Architects, & Creative Director for Karimoku.
As the sun slowly rides back beyond the leafy meadow, local champagne is being decanted, accompanying dazzling appetizers made from homegrown produce that envelopes you in a story, far away from the cacophony of daily life. For the restaurant design, Norm Architects created a curated range of products that highlight Norrland’s traditions in collaboration with design studio Bonni Bonne, based in Sweden. To accentuate ÄNG’s connection with nature, parts of this curated collection are crafted from greenwood, in an ancient woodworking method that creates natural silhouettes and raw textures that fit like a glove inside the restaurant’s sophisticated atmosphere.
A calming, natural materiality of pure oak for the bespoke furniture and elegant stone for the flooring is adopted for the angled glasshouse, refined and processed slightly to make them seem more delicate, “just like Head Chef, Filip Gemzel refines the local ingredients that make up the astounding 19-course tasting menu,” relays the design team.
“The fundamental ambition behind Restaurang ÄNG is in many ways, in line with Norm Architects’ design philosophy of striking a delicate balance between all the sensory experiences that make up a space to create a harmonious setting, where all elements support one another,” says Peter Eland, architect and partner at the Danish firm. “Integrating thoughtful artworks and sculptures are therefore a vital part of the interior and atmosphere at ÄNG. Having the Danish designer, Sara Martinsen, contribute with bespoke artworks was seamless cooperation adding warmth and new stimuli to the space,” they add.
Norm Architects relays that Martinsen, like them, also believes in the beauty of natural responsible materials, in craft and the power of a strong visual story. She arranges local materials so they become inspiring, and one can experience each of their specific characteristics through the objects. “She finds her inspiration in the origin; a beautiful material, a specific craft, or the local history of a given location, why she went out in the forest surrounding ÄNG in order to find inspiration for the materials that should later make up the tactile artworks,” they continue.
As the evening rolls in imperceptibly, diners are led to a hidden elevator that descends unhurriedly underground, temporarily pausing the bright summer evening that takes over the floor above. One then steps out into a dark catacomb-like, subdued wine cellar filled with sparkling wines of ÄNG’s own production, along with high-end French labels. “With the changing of light, we play on the phenomenon of Chiaroscuro; a technique from visual arts used to represent light and shadow as they define objects in order to achieve a sense of volume. When stepping into the shadows, the vision weakens while the remaining senses intensify. One automatically pays more attention to sounds, smells, tastes and touch and even intuition and instinct are strengthened. This way, the surprising transition and changing of scenery prepare the guests for the next part of the holistic dinner experience,” elaborates Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, Norm Architects.
As the sommelier leads the way through the lined shelves, picking out the wine for the next dinner course, visitors catch a glimpse of a quiet, darkened lounge setting in the middle of the space, in anticipation of the experiences that await them. In order to emphasise transitioning from this space to the next, the tiles are cut like a brick floor, furthering the cave-like setting of the windowless cellar, and meeting the wooden floor of the main dining room with floor-to-ceiling views of a natural lake and the rich fauna surrounding it.
This space becomes brighter in the next episode in the story, where subdued senses become alert again to adjust to the light. “If you love food and wine, a fine dining experience is something very special. You never really want the evening to end. Still, sitting at the same table, in the same chair, hour after hour, takes its toll. It’s hard to keep your focus throughout such a long dinner. To stay sharp and thoroughly enjoy every serving, you need new stimuli. Something that awakens you and refreshes your mind,” elaborates Daniel Carlsson, CEO & Partner, Ästad Vingård, Restaurang ÄNG.
The architects and designers travelled to Växjö to collect ready-made sculptures of nature from a giant quarry, drawing from the Japanese Karesansui gardens of raked sand and stone. The aesthetic principle underscoring these dry landscape gardens is yohaku-no-bi, ‘the beauty of blank space’. The raw beauty of stones enunciates the sculptures embellishing the space, as modest interpretations and simulations of the surrounding natural landscape, creating a welcoming atmosphere for the guests stepping out from the dim wine cellar into the main dining room through a giant pivoting wooden door.
Small vases resembling stones from the field outside pepper the main dining room, as an evocative translation of Swedish nature and its aesthetics, in an honest and modern manner. Frederik Werner of Norm Architects shares that in addition to this, as well as the use of Japanese furniture design, they employed acoustic walls made of canvas from Kvadrat, in a shade reminiscent of jute sacks storing crops and grain. “It’s not just a backdrop, but a real experience.”
The shelves in the open kitchen are given harmonious decoration in the form of sculptures and ceramics by Viki Weiland and Ulla Bang, adding warmth and creating a strong coherence between food, art, design and architecture. As the evening progresses, the colours of nature acquire even more vibrancy, while the colours inside the restaurant seem to revise themselves with it – the oakwood obtains a sunset-red hue while the hard grey stone of the open space seems to soften ever so slightly.
Guests end up walking back to the glasshouse, the dining experience coming full circle as the sun proceeds to hand in its reigns – it is now time to serve dessert. The entire story of the curated meals in this cinematic venue of the contemporary architecture enables both visitors and staff at ÄNG to explore, learn, elaborate and fashion unforgettable memories with high-end dining and nature.
The new ÄNG Lounge Table, designed exclusively in collaboration with Karimoku Case Study and constructed from solid oak exudes simplicity and an honest design language, in line with the interior design. The dark stained oak spline joint is a typical feature in Japanese furniture design that serves as a reinforcement of the construction where it is most vulnerable. “This way, the table resembles the essence of our design thinking – to create minimalist designs that are defined by the use of natural materials and honest constructions. Design that stands out and blends in at the same time. Soft and minimal”, shares Norm Architects.
The pristine Scandinavian architecture and minimal design reinterprets the classic form of a barn as well as a greenhouse, in the most spectacularly contemporary and transparent sense, opening itself to nature in celebration of Scandinavian cuisine. The entire journey and experience through the lengthy courses of the tasting menu (made based on available produce, some of which is grown within the structure), paired with Swedish-grown wines, create a choreographed, cinematic scenography within the glasshouse - even through photographs, the restaurant is at once, sensory and experiential. The project is also demonstrative of how architecture balanced with curated spatial and product design can truly drive the course of a dining experience.
Location: Ästad Vingård, Halland, Sweden
Year of completion: 2022
Client: Ästad Vingård
Architect: Norm Architects
Architect and Partner: Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, Peter Eland
Designer and Partner: Frederik Werner
Interior Designer: Hedda Klar
- Bespoke Design
- Contemporary Architecture
- Danish Designer
- Furniture Design
- Hospitality Architecture
- Interior Design
- Japanese Design
- Minimal Architecture
- Minimal Design
- Natural Landscape
- Norm Architects
- Norwegian artist
- Product Design
- Restaurant Design
- Scandinavian Architecture
- Scandinavian Design
- Sensory Experience
- Wooden Architecture